Environmental -- 2014



CTS Corp. v. Waldburger   (U.S. Supreme Court)

Whether CERCLA preempts state statutes of repose

This case involves the deadline for filing damage suits under CERCLA, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. The Supreme Court agreed to review a decision from the Fourth Circuit involving a suit for alleged contamination of the ground and water near an old North Carolina manufacturing plant site once owned by CTS Corporation. The site is subject to clean-up obligations under CERCLA, but this case involves a private suit alleging nuisance under state law. CTS argued that the nuisance claim was barred by North Carolina’s 10-year statute of repose.

CERCLA provides liberal deadlines for filing suit that supersede state statutes of limitations, but says nothing about statutes of repose.

The NAM filed an amicus brief focusing on the history of statutes of repose and the beneficial purposes they serve—particularly in the efforts of states to create, enhance, and protect economic opportunities for their citizens through job growth. We stressed that states across the country have enacted statutes of repose as part of broader efforts to strengthen their economies—an effort that in the current economic environment is all the more important. These statutes simply put an end to perpetual liability that can remain unknown for years and years, after witnesses are gone and memories fade. They provide certainty and finality in commercial transactions, promote judicial economy, and help keep insurance rates down.

On 6/9/2014, the Court ruled 7 to 2 that CERCLA does not preempt state statutes of repose. Such statutes differ from statutes of limitations in that they are designed to put an absolute time limit on a defendant's liability, while statutes of limitations are designed to require plaintiffs to file suit promptly when their claims accrue. Courts may grant exceptions when plaintiffs miss statute of limitations deadlines for various reasons, but not for statutes of repose. Because Congress knew of the differences and did not include statutes of repose in the law at issue, it did not intend to preempt them.

The decision limits long-term liability under CERCLA for pollution that occurred many years ago.


Related Documents:
NAM amicus brief  (March 3, 2014)

 


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